Jim Allister: System of mandatory coalition is absurd

The Irish News this week asked parties how they would make devolved government more stable. Today, TUV leader Jim Allister argues only a coalition of the willing will make Stormont work

TUV leader Jim Allister. Picture by Hugh Russell
TUV leader Jim Allister. Picture by Hugh Russell TUV leader Jim Allister. Picture by Hugh Russell

QUESTION marks over the very existence of Stormont are not new. Policing and justice, welfare reform, the cash for ash scandal, legacy and legislative promotion of the Irish language have all led to crisis.

TUV has long identified the systemic reasons why Stormont as constructed under the Belfast Agreement can never work.

Others, however, who meekly accepted three years of Sinn Féin boycott, have only become interested in reform because unionists are rightly refusing the operate the protocol.

Proposals from Alliance and others to now write out unionists from the core Stormont arrangements are cynical, opportunistic and clearly will not command the support of the unionist community.

The reason why this Stormont will never work is the absurd system of mandatory coalition with which we have been lumbered.

In consequence, none of the parties have to agree about anything before going into government together. Hence, the inevitable crises and collapse.

Moreover, the main nationalist party, in particular, has a vested interest in instability – you can’t make Northern Ireland work and then say you need an All-Ireland.

Nowhere else has the same problems as Northern Ireland when it comes to government because nowhere else are parties forced to sit in government together without an agreed programme for government and a shared vision for the country.

Read more: 

Gerry Carroll: Solutions must overcome Stormont's fundamental flaws

The double whammy of an unworkable system and the reality that Sinn Féin is not in government to make Northern Ireland work guarantees perpetual failure.

Whether devolution can survive is questionable, but if it does it will require root and branch change where mandatory coalition is abandoned in favour of voluntary coalition circumscribed by weighted majority provisions which protect cross-community composition, and all that buttressed with a meaningful and properly resourced opposition.

With no party big enough to govern on its own, coalition is inevitable. As elsewhere, for it to work, it must be a coalition of the willing.

A weighted majority vote to approve the new government and its programme and budget would be the mechanism to ensure cross-community composition.

TUV has long proposed proposed a second alternative if durable executive devolution proves unattainable.

The key to preventing the collapse of the present failed Stormont, meaning the end of devolution, is to salvage that which has worked and jettison that which has failed.

By its nature, devolution embraces two distinct aspects: legislative devolution (exercised by the Assembly) and executive devolution (exercised by ministers).

Analysis of the failure of the present Stormont throws up the obvious conclusion that it is the dimension of executive devolution which has failed. Legislative devolution has been modestly successful.

The practical outworking of such an approach would be that the elected Assembly would be preserved as the legislature for transferred Northern Ireland matters, along with its important scrutiny function, but without a local executive.

Executive functions would be exercised by British ministers, but with the vital distinction that they would be accountable to the Assembly and their legislative programme would pass, not through Westminster, but through the Stormont Assembly.

We are equally clear that if others refuse to embrace the change which is necessary to make Stormont work, then we would be better without it. If MLAs cannot deliver for the public, why should they add to the pressure on public expenditure?

If we cannot have democratic devolution which empowers the voter to vote a party out of office and have an opposition to hold the government to account, we would be better off without it and should be governed by British ministers and parliament as an integral part of the United Kingdom.

Read more: 

  • Matthew O'Toole: Overcoming the politics of deadlock and confrontation
  • Michelle O'Neill: No fundamental change without people's consent
  • Naomi Long: Reform essential for Stormont's survival